On the eve of his first meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, President Donald Trump questioned the veracity of American intelligence about foreign meddling in the U.S. election, arguing Thursday that Russia wasn’t the only country that may have interfered.
“Nobody really knows for sure,” President Trump said.
As U.S. investigations into Russia’s meddling forge ahead, Trump is under intense scrutiny for how he handles his first face-to-face session with Putin. U.S. intelligence officials say the unpredictable Russia leader ordered interference into the 2016 election that brought Trump to the White House.
Trump and Putin plan to sit down on Friday in Hamburg, Germany, on the sidelines of an international summit.
Loathe to cast a shadow on his election victory, President Trump has avoided firmly blaming Moscow for campaign hacking in the past, and on Thursday, he was similarly elusive. He argued variably that it could have been Russia, probably was Russia and indeed was Russia, while insisting it could have been other countries, too, and adding: “I won’t be specific.”
“A lot of people interfere. It’s been happening for a long time,” Trump said in Poland. Asked specifically whether he planned to discuss the issue with Putin, President Trump demurred.
The president sought to redirect any scrutiny toward his predecessor, Barack Obama, accusing him of allowing Moscow to meddle on his watch. Though the Obama administration warned Russia publicly and privately before Election Day to stop interfering, questions have since been raised about whether he acted aggressively enough to stop the threat.
“They say he choked. Well, I don’t think he choked,” President Trump said. “I think he thought Hillary Clinton was going to win the election, and he said, ‘Let’s not do anything about it.'”
President Trump said the CIA had informed Obama about the hacking months before the election but added that “mistakes have been made.” Though he has made similar statements before, it was an extraordinary public expression of doubt about U.S. intelligence capabilities by a president while standing on foreign soil.
President Trump’s comments came as he opened his second visit to Europe. In Warsaw, he used part of a joint news conference with Polish President Andrzej Duda to attack several U.S. news organizations for their coverage of his presidency, eliciting sympathy from Duda, who suggested that he, too, was covered unfairly.
“We don’t want fake news,” President Trump said.